Hip-Hop in a hotel lobby is an unsuspecting site. At The Line hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, the producer, rapper, and music artist Alexander Spit sits in front of a laptop, an Ableton midi, and an SP 404, making and playing lo-fi non-traditional hip-hop beats that sound like they would be in the video of the girl studying live for everyone to enjoy.
Amid the beats, the happy hour timing, and the relaxing atmosphere, Spit was incorporating himself into what he was playing for onlookers, fans, and hotel employees alike. Here he was incorporating music that he would play for himself at home. There was Lil’ Wayne, Tisa Korean, a mix of Rihanna’s version of Tame Impala’s “Same Ol Mistakes” in there too, and he was chopping and mixing the songs and samples there all in real-time.
“I mean, to me, to keep it a buck, the shit I’m playing in here is typically what I play for myself when I’m kicking it,” Spit started. “I love chopping up loops and samples, which is what I was doing on the spot. I put together a bunch of songs that I wanted to sample and on the spot, I was kind of chopping them in a very quick way just so it’s not like a tedious, boring process for anybody listening.”
What was it like when you got the call for you to do the residency? How did that feel?
Alexander Spit: It was me just connecting some dots, because I’m from the Bay Area, and I grew up here during my high school years until like I was in my mid-20s or something, and my family and everybody is still up here. So over the years, I’ve made a lot of close contacts with friends and peers in the Bay Area. And I planned on spending the month of May up here because my brother lives in the Mission, and he just happened to be going traveling for the month. He was like, ‘Do you want to house-sit?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, easy.’ So because of that, I ended up reaching out to my homegirl, Suzette, who works here at The Line. And coincidentally they do these things on Tuesdays where they have live music here in the lobby. And she was like, ‘We’re kind of open to doing something different. You want to come play, make beats in the lobby or something?’ And I was like, ‘Easy,’ and that’s how we here.
What’s the reception been like from the start until now?
Spit: I think it’s been decent, you know. Are you from the Bay Area?
I’m from the city.
Spit: You from the city. So I have this I was talking with my friend Suzette about it just now. San Francisco is in this very interesting time, in my opinion, where there are things like this going on and there are a lot of subcultural events happening, but it’s in this transitional period where the people here are not very appreciative of the Bay Area bred energy, almost. So it’s interesting because they booked me here, but they booked me from, like, five to 07:00 P.m., which is a tricky time.
It would be like happy hour time.
Spit: In theory, but it’s tricky. It’s a Tuesday, it’d be one thing if it was like a five to seven on Friday or something. It’s just a really random, arbitrary time. Why they have this, I don’t really know the reasoning behind it, but it is what it is. The reception has been cool. It’s been difficult to get as many folks as possible out here. But you know because I have been doing this throughout the course of a month, it’s been cool because each week there’s been a different group of people who I think have come, and that’s been great. So it’s been spread out over the course of a month, which has been good. And it’s a cool opportunity for me because I’m always interested in trying to play a lot more of my experimental stuff. And doing it during these hours is a cool opportunity to test stuff out, see what works, see what sounds good and whatnot and it’s stuff that you don’t really get to play during the lit hours of the night. So it’s like, I have no complaints. This was a great month.
How did you pivot your sound to become more palatable to people who stay here, and people who come in?
Spit: It’s tricky. It’s definitely tricky because to keep it a buck, I have no gauge over what people like.
Yeah, because it’s like everybody’s just sitting.
Spit: It’s that, and my mind is so far, like, to me, what is normal sounding might be completely abstract and obscure to the next person. And to me, what sounds, like, super smooth and vibey might be, like, chaotic and intense to the next person.
Spit’s father comes up and hands him the plate of food he hasn’t finished, and asked if Spit was going home with him and his mom. His dad recently got surgery on his knees and is already mobile.
Spit: Yeah, it’s been interesting. I almost feel like myself, I’m in a transitional period as an artist where I am trying to make tap into more and more, just bend the rules as much as possible, like not being palatable. But it’s interesting doing an event like this in a series like this where they kind of want me to play that fine line of being palatable but doing my thing. And I’ve always prided myself over the years of being able to walk that fine line. But as I grow as an artist, I feel like the goal nowadays is to disregard whatever lines do exist and do my thing whenever possible. And obviously without trying to mess the bag up.
When being in these spaces where people are not necessarily lovers of music or love the music the same way the artist does, challenges can arise. Most of the people circling through the lobby to the restaurant were just passing by. So in order to make the people passing by more than that, you need to create music that translates to everyone. During his residency at The Line, he was mixing Mary J. Blige, and Tisa Korean, with more experimental lo-fi sounds that he loves to play around with.
To prepare for this, he already had the songs that he wanted to sample in mind. On the laptop in front of him, Ableton is open and he showed me all of the presets that featured over 100 samples of songs organized by color which made it easier for him to chop the samples live. The juxtaposition of blending the sounds made the process of mixing R&B and rap over “dirty sample-based music,” and that juxtaposition mirrored his being in this space. The presets along with some on-the-spot improvisation, and doing it just to the point where it works out.
How did you figure out how to do this? What was your introduction to music like?
Spit: A big part of it over the years has been, like, I’ve always rapped, I’ve always made beats. But one of the biggest things I think would have connected me to, I guess, this process or this workflow has been DJing. And such a big part of DJing is reading the room and trying to educate people, but at the same time reading the room and trying to capture the vibe of whatever is going on. I feel like I’ve always DJed over the years, for as long as I can remember, to be honest. For me, DJing has helped inform how I make beats because the way I make beats is very much so I try to make it very I try to work off the momentum of whatever musical idea I just did. So if I have some drums playing, I know there’s only a certain amount of time that’s going to pass before I’m going to want to hear like a melody, and there’s going to be a certain amount of time after that that I’m going to want to hear a change of sort. So that’s kind of how I make beats. It’s kind of just like I’m actively listening even if I’m scrolling through sounds, and it’s just sounding like a mess. I’m listening as if I’m on the dancefloor. I’m being entertained. So that’s how I ended up making music the way I do. It’s very DJ oriented, but it’s still like warm and textual and musical and experimental wherever possible.
So what were your earliest introductions to music in general?
Spit: My pops listened to Maxwell, and my pops listened to Stevie Wonder. A lot of temptations, a lot of soul music. And around the time I started getting into music, I got into Tupac. And that just got me down a rabbit hole of getting into hip-hop music. And hip hop music got me into every other kind of genre of music just because I was so interested in the jump, I wanted to make it. As soon as I heard hip-hop music, I wanted to make it. And that got me into learning how to make beats, which taught me to have an appreciation for every genre because I started seeing that whatever genre I’m listening to was potentially an opportunity to turn that into hip hop idea or that give me to capture that feeling.
“That all really started with soul music.”
Spit: So anything with melody and just feel like some smooth shit, my pop listened to a lot of. When we lived in LA, there was a radio station called 94.7 Away, which is smooth jazz. And I was just like, it’s interesting because when I was a kid, I feel like I almost didn’t like it. It was my pop’s music. But now that’s like the North Star that I’m always trying to face my creative endeavors towards this feeling of smooth, nostalgic R&B love songs. And my favorite thing is to mesh that with the texture of hip-hop that I like. And I’d say that’s the direction I’m always trying to head. Some smooth vibey shit, but with that texture of the city, you know what I’m saying? Like something that makes you want to go outside or go inward, but something that definitely isn’t heard in the mainstream.
Do you feel like you’ve been doing that?
Spit: I think that’s the constant goal at all times is trying to accomplish that, you know? It’s interesting, like, I’ve been doing music a long time, and I’ve been, you know, there have been multiple different chapters throughout my musical career, but I definitely feel like at this current junction, I’m the closest I’ve ever been to doing what I imagine what I want to do to sound like, look like, be like and everything. And it’s funny just because, yeah, I have so much energy and motivation to continue doing it, like, pursuing craft and music and seeing what it turns into. But it’s just funny because after I’ve been doing it easily a decade plus, and I’m just now feeling like I’m in the groove of what I was always trying to accomplish.
Like you’re getting your stride.
Spit: Yeah, definitely. That’s where I’m at.
Sounds like it’s been fulfilling.
Were there any times when you felt like this wasn’t fulfilling?
Spit: All the time, all the time, all the time. I mean, this has been the quote I’ve been referring to a lot lately, but there’s a sound bite Nipsey [Hussle] on a radio interview where he talks about in regards to this music shit. He’s done felt every emotion and the only thing that separates him from the next person is that he kept going. And I really relate to that because there have been days I’ve woken up and I’ve been, like, ten years deep in this music shit, being like, ‘this is the worst idea I could have ever done. What am I doing? I don’t got it. There’s no point in me doing this. Somebody else ought to be doing this.’ And I felt that, and I felt the exact opposite side of the spectrum where I’ve been like, I’m better than everybody else in the world, and maybe to the point that it was even too narcissistic or egotistical, but I’ve felt it. I’ve felt every emotion when it comes to this. Music is a language that speaks for me when I genuinely have not figured out how to speak in regular words. And it accomplishes that. It fills the void and accomplishes that for me. For that just alone, I refuse to not do it because it has that much of a cathartic experience for me, and it heals me. It gets me going. It gets me up in the morning. It literally just gives me something to do because otherwise I’d be distracted by whatever, to be distracted about in this world. And it’s like when I’m doing music, I’m not distracted by the other shit, so I’m not checking my phone when I’m doing music, I’m not paying attention to anything. I’m happy with where it’s at. I still have high hopes and a lot of high aspirations for where I want to take it from where it’s at right now.
In this setting, Spit has been able to use his skills and his passions in a way that is different from doing things in the privacy of his home. Working for this month at The Line, reminded him that the things that stick out to the audience he caters to the most is that the people can tell that he enjoys what he is doing, it is even clear to the people passing by.
“There’s like weird experimental loops and textures that turn into almost like a soundscape and they just blur into each other and it’s a very meditative music for me to make,” Spit said. “And getting opportunities like this residency, I’m making those on the spot. And here and there I read the room and I’m just like oh, this is not only appropriate, it ends up feeling like a bold sound.”
Being able to work in the lobby of The Line, wasn’t only an opportunity for him to showcase his more experimental works, he was sitting there working on getting better at his craft. “The fact that I had to sit down once a week for 2 hours and make music on the spot for people to hear sharpened my sword and made me make a lot of music between the Tuesdays because I was like oh, it works, and sounds better,” he said.
Does this experience make you want to do other residencies or experiment more with music in different spaces?
Spit: 1000% I think exploring the context of space to music is a very interesting thing to explore. But this month is a learning experience for sure. Because what I’m learning about myself as an artist and even just I’m realizing this right now as I say it out loud is that, you don’t need to go out of your way to do it, but it is important to provide people with context to what you’re doing sometimes. I think by providing the context that I’m making these ideas on the spot and I am a producer from the Bay for whatever context is required, that goes a long way. So what I’m learning as an artist is that I often assume that if the music is being played through speakers loud enough, people will take the time to pay attention and try to digest it, but that’s not often the case. You have to present it in a manner, and I’m still not even quite sure of the exact manner I need to try to present some of these ideas to people and in what space we’re getting in what context. But I do know there’s an important aspect of that that I’m trying to explore moving forward. And this month has told me that.
After over ten years as a musician, Spit is still finding new ways to challenge himself and striving to get better at his craft. He’s been playing the behind-the-scenes role on the production side for a minute producing songs and projects for artists like Maxo, Loji, and Sideshow, working on developing his production sound as Alexander Spit. But going beyond the music that he is working on with his friends, he is also taking the long process of making music involving his own songwriting, rapping and instrumentals.
“That is still a main priority for me is my own musical release stuff,” he said. “I’ve just been extremely slow with it, and I have no timeline for it, but I’m constantly working all the time.”
Music is a process that takes time, as we all know. Spit has never been into rushing his art and is making sure that all of it will come out in due time. As he continues his career, he wants to continue to bend and blur the lines of hip-hop and all of the other genres he loves. And he is doing this all by staying true to himself and through setting an example for the people who may come after him.
“At the end of the day, I’m really trying to be, like, a strong advocate of being a strong representation of a Filipino American doing hip hop and experimental music,” he said.